Saddle Fit Tips for Your Western Saddle: Q&A with Circle Y
Ensure saddle fit for horse-and-rider comfort, with saddle-fitting advice from the pros
Our horses are no different from humans. Like athletes, their bodies are ever changing. Improper saddle fit, and the stressors it can cause, play a key role in performance, attitude and rider-horse relationships. Athletes do not simply wake up one day and decide to run a marathon. They hire trainers to watch their form, familiarize themselves with the curvature and their movements. Once everything is completed, they are then matched with the best running gear to meet their needs.
Without a properly fitted saddle, horses can develop pressure points, rub marks and sores. Over time, the damage can become unbearable. Your horse’s saddle fit is an important part of their comfort and performance, as well as your success as a rider. Help ensure your horse’s health and success by having them properly fitted for the right saddle.
UNDERSTANDING THE ANATOMY OF A SADDLE:
WHAT IS THE SADDLE TREE?
A saddle tree is the base on which the rest of the Western saddle is built, usually made from wood or a similar synthetic material. The saddle tree is eventually covered in leather or a leather-like synthetic.
The tree size determines saddle fit on the horse's back, as well as the size of the seat for the rider. Circle Y makes about 14 different tree widths for their variety of saddles, for a horse’s perfect fit.
IS THERE AN ‘INDUSTRY STANDARD’ FOR TREE WIDTHS?
There is no standardization in the industry for a Regular (or Semi-Quarter horse) tree and Wide (or Full Quarter horse) tree, so different saddle brands will not fit the same. The fit may also vary among disciplines. Trees are designed for the majority of horse conformations; however, as we discussed earlier there is no standardization in the industry of what is a semi, full, draft or gaited fit. Circle Y researches and tailors saddle trees based on the hundreds of horses individually fitted each year. That is why you’ll find several tree fits that work well on many types of horses.
WHAT IS THE GULLET OF A SADDLE?
The gullet measurement is important and often is the most misunderstood. It is not the defining factor of saddle fit. Most importantly, not every saddle with a specified gullet measurement will fit the same. The angle and twist of the bars affect how the saddle will fit. Additionally, the way a saddle maker takes the gullet measurement is on the bare tree and not with the leather on the saddle. If you’re looking to purchase a used saddle, and the seller provides a gullet measurement, understand that measurement can vary greatly depending on where they hold the measuring tape.
The front of the saddle tree bar (the front edge of the concho) should be behind the shoulder blade (scapula) to allow for freedom of movement. Placing the saddle too far forward over the scapula can cause unnecessary rubbing and pressure (white spots). The blanket or pad and the skirt of the saddle can cover the back of the scapula, but the bars of the tree must be behind the shoulder blade. This is important as a saddle will travel back/forward to settle into this sweet spot.
THE ILLUSTRATION, EXPLAINED
The illustration below is a simplified view of the goal of saddle fitting: to achieve bar contact between the tree and the horse. With a good fit, the bar angle matches the angle of the horse for maximum contact, and there is sufficient clearance between the wither of the horse and the swell of the saddle.
When there is little bar contact and the pressure is concentrated in a particular place, the result can be pinching, rubbing, or white marks. Pinching does not always mean the horse needs a wider fit --- in fact, concentrated pinching often means the fit is too wide, as seen in the Tree Too Wide illustration.
WHAT ARE SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR FITTING SADDLES TO DIFFERENT CONFORMATIONS?
Typically, if you have wide-back, short coupled horses, you have a couple of concerns. One is obviously the tree width. The other one is the skirt length. Sometimes, the skirt can be too long. And the end of the skirt could cause your saddle to bridge, which means you make contact in the front.
WHAT PADDING IS AVAILABLE FOR HORSES WITH PROMINENT WITHERS, OR SLIGHTLY SWAYBACK HORSES?
If you have older horses, you may be getting some bridging problems; some may even have slightly swayback horses. Bridging is when the saddle only makes contact on two points. Those points would be the front and the back, leaving a big space in the middle, where there is no pressure. Swayback pads are designed for those who have older or younger horses that are either losing their back or haven’t gained the muscle in their back yet. They are intended to fill in a hollow area to make contact with the horse’s back. Remember, the better the saddle fit, the less padding necessary.
When it comes to saddles, there is no one-size-fits-all. Finding the right saddle for your horse is just as important as matching the horse to rider. No matter the riding discipline, proper saddle fit will help ensure comfort and more effective riding overall See a wide selection of saddles and tack available, and for more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Continue reading on this topic, with “Western Saddle Fitting 101: Tips on Proper Fit, Selecting Saddle Pads, Cinches and More.”